Germany’s Search for the Supertree

Since childhood, the forest has been my second home. Especially in autumn, when the mushroom season begins, there is no holding me back. I still love to get up at dawn and roam through the forest in the thick morning fog. There is the ancient beech that greets me right at the entrance to the forest. And there are the young birch trees over on the small slope. Bay bolete mushrooms can be found growing there in September.

Last year, the beech tree had already shed most of its leaves by midsummer. It was no different this year.

It has not escaped my attention how much the forest has changed. This transformation is not only visible in Brandenburg, but also in many forests in Germany and throughout Europe. Trees have been suffering under extreme stress caused by drought, which now extends for increasingly longer periods, and from climate change in general.

Bare tree tops and trunks eaten away by bark beetles characterize the picture of forests today. According to experts, forests are in a bad shape.

This poses dramatic consequences not only for forests as green lungs and a place for relaxation but also for all those who utilize forests as a source of income. Already since 1989, a committee of researchers and representatives from the environmental and business communities in Germany has been searching for a new supertree for the country’s forests.

The tree should be resistant enough to withstand climate change, while also binding as much CO2 as possible. In other words, it should have a thick trunk and reach a great height. The tree of the future must be adaptable, resistant to drought, pests, and heat, recover quickly from droughts, bind considerable amounts of CO2, and, in addition, generate revenue.

In 2019, the robinia (black locust) was chosen as a promising candidate. “It binds quite a lot of CO2, grows fast, and produces durable wood that is resistant to weathering,” says Martin Kohler, a forestry scientist from Freiburg, Germany.

“Nonetheless, the robinia has a drawback. When it gets enough light, it is practically impossible to restrain, and it takes away the sun from other tree species. This is something that you have to know, and you, therefore, can’t just plant them in forest groves.”

What should the forest of the future look like?

Many experts support the “close to nature” forestry management approach, which advocates only minimum necessary human intervention. Others see this as placing jobs at risk and warn of wood imports from abroad. On one point, however, a consensus has been reached – the forest as a pure spruce monoculture is not sustainable.

Above all, biodiversity and a good combination of different tree species must be established. Only a diverse forest is robust enough to withstand climate change.